Combining Auto-Doubles and Linkers
Like how auto-doubles can be special-canceled into linkers, linkers are normal cancelable back into auto-doubles. This back-and-forth relationship forms the core of the Killer Instinct combo engine; once you’ve done an opener, you can do auto-doubles and linkers repeatedly, as long as you switch between the two. You are encouraged to frequently switch between the strengths of your auto-doubles and linkers to make yourself difficult to combo break.
Again, it is important to note that the buttons for your next move need to be input before the previous move is finished. Each new move is canceling the recovery frames of the old move, so the button press must come before the current move’s active frames are over. Timing for the next input can come quite quickly, especially when light linkers or light auto-doubles are used.
It is also important to note that openers can also be canceled into linkers. That is to say, you can choose which of the two combo techniques (auto-doubles or linkers) you transition out of the opener with, but once you’ve performed one, you must switch to the other.
Let’s sum up what we know so far. Openers start a combo; they are jump-ins or certain special moves, typically ones that leave the opponent on the ground. After an opener, you can do either a linker (a special move, usually 1, 2, or 3 hits), or an auto-double (a two-hit normal attack), and then switch between them. This information alone is enough to follow a large percentage of beginner Killer Instinct combos. You identify the opener, and then try to separate the auto-doubles from the linkers as they come, always alternating between each other. There’s a bit more we can tack on to this, but it doesn’t change the fundamental opener-double-linker structure that much, so keep this in mind as we move forward.
Here's a bit of practice to help you recognize the fundamentals of a Killer Instinct combo. Sadira's openers and linkers include Demon Blade, a twirling special move, and Recluse, a backflip. The combo in the video below uses only these two special moves and a combination of auto-doubles; take a moment and try to identify the pieces of the combo yourself. On your first watch, try to separate the auto-doubles and the linkers in your mind. That is, look for when Sadira is punching or kicking twice in a row (auto-double) and when she is twirling or flipping (linker), remembering that they must always alternate.
Once you have a feel for that, try to identify the strength of the linkers by counting the number of hits. Finally, try to determine the strength of the auto-doubles through audio or visual cues; the heavy auto-double is the slowest and most impactful, so it is perhaps the easiest to find. Remember, in KI, you're able to defend against this combo by using a combo breaker, which is why it's just as important to recognize pieces of your opponent's combo as it is to learn your own. You won't be able to react to every piece of a combo in a real match, but just being able to identify the individual combo pieces, even in hindsight, is very helpful. At first it will be challenging, but all that's needed is a little practice!
Not surprisingly, you can also spend your shadow meter to do shadow moves while in a combo. These are called shadow linkers, and they can be performed at any time during the combo sequence. You can cancel an opener or auto-double into them, like you would a normal linker, but you can also cancel a linker into them, sort of like a special move canceled into a super in a Street Fighter game. However, they follow linker rules at the end, meaning if you don't want to do another shadow linker, you must transition back to normals to continue the combo.
Shadow linkers have some interesting properties when trying to combo break, but you’re likely to use these for increased damage or positioning. Shadow linkers are especially fantastic to use when your opponent is locked out, since they will not be able to combo break. They also might animate with slightly different timing than their versions outside of a combo, just like how regular special moves change properties when used as linkers.